North Gwinett football coach Bob Sphire says he wasn’t looking for change, but when three-time state champion Camden County expressed interest a couple of weeks ago, he was eager to hear what the south Georgia state power had to say.
Sphire, who averaged 10 wins in his 11 seasons at North Gwinnett, was approved Tuesday evening as the head coach at Camden County on at a school board meeting.
Sphire met with his North Gwinnett players to say goodbye on Wedesday morning.
‘’It’s a great opportunity to take on the challenge of a program that’s been on the big stage and come out on top three times in the last 15 years,’’ Sphire said. ‘’That’s something that as a coach, if you’re a true competitor, you’d like to take your program and see what you can do there. I feel blessed that they singled me out as a man who could revive it and get it back in the hunt.’’
Camden won state titles in 2003, 2008 and 2009 under Jeff Herron, who is now Grayson’s head coach. Camden was 27-16 in four years under Herron's successor, Welton Coffey, but slipped to 2-7 last season, its first losing season excluding forfeits since 1977.
Coffey, who had worked several seasons with Herron, resigned as head coach and will become the school’s athletics director after current A.D. Gary Blount retires at the end of the academic year.
Camden’s hiring of Sphire will mark the end of Camden's famed wing-T offense, a staple of the program since Herron was hired in 2000.
Sphire transformed North Gwinnett, a perennial also-ran, with a pass-first spread offense that set scoring records. North Gwinnett had five all-state quarterbacks under Sphire.
‘’This will be a philosophical and cultural change in terms of switching to the spread and playing fast and reckless,’’ Sphire said. ‘’It’s probably the right time there. Hopefully I can go in and be a great teacher, and if the kids feel like they’re starting to flourish, it can catch fire.’’
That is sure to get the interest of aspiring quarterbacks and receivers in the coastal Georgia county. Camden completed only 20 passes last season.
‘’I suspect there are probably some 6-3 basketball kids that may want to go up and catch balls or some 400-meter guys who can stretch the field who aren’t playing football and see the system we have and say, ‘You know what, I want to be a part of that,’ ‘’ he said.
Sphire’s move also brings to an end the most successful era of North Gwinnett football.
North had not had a 10-win season or a region title in its 45-season history until Sphire arrived in 2006. His first team finished 11-2, and North claimed region titles in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014.
North reached state-championship games in 2007 (lost to Lowndes) and 2013 (to Norcross).
‘’I couldn’t be more proud of what we’ve accomplished at North Gwinnett,’’ Sphire said. “We’ve averaged 10 wins and won multiple region titles. We’ve got 27 players playing Division I football and five in the NFL. But more importantly, we’ve done it right. We’ve taken kids who didn’t go to college football and who look back at high school as the best times of their lives.’’
Sphire’s record at North Gwinnett was 110-28. North was 5-5 and 6-5 the past two seasons. Sphire has more than 250 career wins in high school football, most of them in his native Kentucky.
‘’I wasn’t going into this offseason looking,'' Sphire said. "We’re really primed and headed in a great direction here. The next four, five years will be incredible with what we have in the fold. But when somebody wants to talk to you about something that might be better for your family and finances, and you see the facilities and the passion they have there, you work too hard not to listen.’’